Sunday, November 23, 2008

Film Fun

Launder & Gilliatt's chairsI thought I'd start an occasional series of posts dipping in and out of my movie collection. Not to show off the breadth and depth of my cinematic knowledge, which is questionable, but to have a quick revel in craftsmanship and wit that we are too often too dismissive about.

No multi-million dollar blockbusters, no CGI, and definitely no bollocks about the auteur theory: most of my favourite films may have stars but they're essentially ensemble pieces. Alistair Sim credits

Which brings me to the Belles of St. Trinian's. Cast your eye at the list of the people involved, making sure that you go down as far as "People viewing this page may also be..." This is pure quality. And the film? Oh yes, yes, I know you know all the cliches about teenagers in mini gymslips and stockings and all that. The truth is that the film is much more about the mob animal that is the younger girls and some of the more splendid cynicisms of the 1950s.

I'm just going to chuck a few into the pot to give you a flavour... I'll leave you to guess the contexts. (-:

"Pogo Williams is older than me, and what's more she's married."
"Not officially"

"What a girl! A real chip off the old block."
"Don't say that Benny, don't say that. It makes my blood run cold."

"If only I had the courage to give myself up..."
"You might as well do. The food would be better and so would the company."

"What on earth have you got on your hair?"
"Honey and flowers. Like it?"
"Would you please put your hat back on."

"No, your highness, that one's not on the books. She's an American journalist writing an article on the lure of the harem for the Saturday Post."

the girls

"I sent one of my best men down to the place to inspect it."
"Well, what did he report?"
"He never came back."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Disappeared completely."
"Well what did you do then?"
"I sent another man after him."
"And he brought him back."
"No, he disappeared, too."
"You mean to say that you sent two inspectors and never heard of either of them again?"
"Not a word."
"Well, why didn't you inform the police?"
"It's hardly the sort of thing the ministry wants to draw attention to. Besides, I knew they were all right: they kept drawing their pay. I put a stop to that in the end."

This last exchange is between Superintendent Sammy Kemp-Bird (Lloyd Lamble, who died earlier this year) and the Man from The Ministry, Manton Bassett (Richard Wattis, superb as ever). This scene typifies what is best of British comedy films of the fifties: two actors who usually played the straight man given a five minute scene jam-packed with one-liners: "a veritable crime wave ...poison pen letters""I'm surprised the little beasts can write."

cartoon: the schoolgirls have run over a mistress with the grounds roller

Most of the diabolical nature of the girls can only be hinted at: "Bessie, you will be careful with that nitroglycerine, won't you?" but the film censorship boards of the time wouldn't have been able to cope with the realities of Ronald Searle's original cartoons. If you get the chance to pick up one of the original collections in a second-hand bookshop, treat yourself. Great fun.
some little girl didn't hear me say unarmed combat

All this wordery and I haven't yet mentioned Alistair Sim. A bravura performance.

And perhaps the best hockey match on the silver screen. With Andree Melly in hockey shorts.

And finally, the music. Malcolm Arnold conducted by Muir Matheson. The lietmotifs work well, the best easily being that for Flash Harry (you can just imagine this music wearing a zoot suit and a dodgy trilby). The school song is superbly lush and was fleshed out into The St. Trinian's Battle Song for Blue Murder at St. Trinina's. Go on, have a sing-song!


Lavinia said...

I'm at a loss. Who are these people? Witty lines but the names utterly unfamiliar. Must remedy this....

Webrarian said...

Those original "Searley Girls" were wonderful.

Have you seen The St Trinian's Story by Kaye Webb?

It features the music of Malcolm Arnold's school song and the St Trinian's Soccer Song.

All decent, well-run libraries should have a copy.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Lavinia: This is one of my reasons for doing this. This is a large part of the first division of home-grown British cinema in the fifties.

Webrarian: I haven't, we don't. Shame it's out of print; I'd suggest it to Bronwyn.

Mrs Pouncer said...

Oh, Kev, I could kiss you. Obviously, this pre-dates me by many many years (hemhem) but my dear aunt had a role in this film (one of the "uncredited" in the listing) and my dad was duty Doctor. According to his case notes, which I have kept for posterity (and thank God - otherwise I'd have never known about the whole Beverley Sisters Heimlich Manoeuvre thing) it was Peter Broxup on a tracker, and getting a lens rammed into his eye. I imagine that's what he told his wife anyway.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Mrs. P: Obviously this predates both of us by many decades. You old name-dropper.

Lavinia: A taste of Alistair Sim, Joyce Grenfell and George Cole.

scarlet-blue said...

I love that tune! They used to put these films on during the school holidays... they were my inspiration.
I'm knackered. I have a hangover. How does Mrs P do it?

Ellis Nadler said...

I used to pass Richard Wattis' house on my way to primary school.

Anonymous said...

I tell you something, Mon Brave. If you ever feel like doing some proper work, go and tidy up the Wikipedia articles on Searle and St. Trinian's which are prime examples of writing by people who know rock-all about the subject.


having my cake said...

Like Scarlet, I used to watch these in the school holidays. Little Sis and I were huge fans, trilling the theme tune and modelling our own school uniform on that of the young ladies of the sixth form. Watching them as a more mature lady, like you I was mesmerised by the wittiness of the dialogue. So much just went unnoticed because there were so many one-liners. And I always had a soft spot for Richard Wattis.

savannah said...

fascinating sugar! what an insight into your cultural history!

(what a darling you are for adding me to your blogroll, sugar! i have, most gladly and happily, reciprocated.)

Gadjo Dilo said...

Richard Wattis - was he in "Sykes"? I always reckoned Joan Simms was a much underestimated actress. Sadly I saw few of these films on the proverbial Sunday afternoon TV slot, but you're convincing me of their worth, Kev.

Word Verification Code said...


Kevin Musgrove said...

Scarlet: could you play the tune on the sax?

Ellis: what was he like in real life? I always got the impression that he would be genial and laid-back. Perhaps because so many of the characters he played, as in Sykes, were always at risk of going off on one.

Major: The Webrarian would do a better-researched job of this one than me. And a half-pissed poodle could do a better job than the Wikipedia entry. I once tried to clean up a mess in some of the pages on palaeoherpetology; never again!

Ms. Cake: I am resisting the idea of you and Scarlet skittering down the road in gym slips. I think, though, that it would be good to do something with a Richard Wattis theme...

Savannah: Hello again dear thing! Thank you!

gd: That's the chappie. I echo your view on Joan Sims, too, who was always reliable support for a film.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Word verification: Hello and welcome! Or rather: zeugomatosis!

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

This is why we have rampaging girl gangs and Vicky Pollard today! This sort of nonsense should have been banned in the beginning, it has only encourages gels to behave badly. Poor Joyce Grenfell must have been going through hard times to have to stoop to such appalling standards.

Kevin Musgrove said...

Daphne: But this is also why we have Clarissa, Scarlet and very probably Ms. Cake.